The Australian Ballet

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History in the Making


Regent Theatre exterior
Photo Unknown

In 2024 we say au revoir to our beloved home at the State Theatre as the Melbourne Arts precinct undergoes the largest cultural infrastructure project in Australia’s history. This transformation will ultimately provide state-of-the-art theatre upgrades and a creative hub further cementing Melbourne as one of the cultural capitals of Australia. While these upgrades are taking place, The Australian Ballet is relocating to the historic Regent Theatre on Collins Street. We take a look at the incredible journey of one of Melbourne’s most impressive theatre.

1929 Regentand Plaza

Regent and Plaza, 1929
Photo Marriner Theatre Archive

1929 A Palace for the People

The Regent Theatre and the accompanying Plaza Theatre opened on May 15, 1929. Intended as picture palaces, these ornate, lavish buildings were part of a glamorous entertainment era where a night out at the cinema was an exciting event on the social calendar.
Inspired by the New York Capitol Theatre, the Regent was designed by Cedric Ballantyne and was the third picture palace in the Hoyts Cinema chain. It was also by far the most elaborate, taking inspiration from Spanish Gothic and French Renaissance styles, with the grand foyer set to resemble a cathedral.
The smaller Plaza Theatre below was initially designed to be a ballroom. When they were denied a liquor license, the space was redesigned to be a second cinema with a distinctly Spanish design.


Damage from the 1945 fire
Photo The Regent Theatre, Melbourne's Palace of Dreams (1996 Re-opening Brochure)

1945 Fire!

A disastrous fire tore through The Regent in 1945, completely gutting the auditorium and destroying the Wurlitzer organ. Although the building was believed to be fire resistant, the decorative plaster work and softwood framing exacerbated the severity of the fire. Miraculously during the fire, the safety curtain had fallen, covering and protecting the contents onstage.

1947 Regent Interior

Interior of the rebuilt Regent Theatre, 1947
Photo John Thiele

1947 From the Ashes

The Regent Theatre is painstakingly restored to its former glory using the original moulds and architectural plans. Despite the scarcity of building materials post WWII, Hoyts was able to receive special permission from the State Government to rebuild the theatre, ensuring the resurrection of ‘the peoples palace’.
The biggest difference in the reconstruction was that the proscenium was changed from curved to straight and the chandeliers no longer took inspiration from those at Versailles.


The Regent Theatre remains closed for 26 years
Photo Unknown

1970 TV Killed the Movie Star

As television became more accessible across Australia, the grand picture palaces of the 1920s waned in popularity. Heading to the cinema was no longer the lavish outing it once had been, and this served as the final blow to the historic venue. The Regent closed its doors on 1 July 1970, followed by the Plaza on 4 November.


Front page of The Herald, 23 September 1975 - It would be another 21 years before the Regent reopened in 1996

1970s – 1990s Save the Regent!

Over the next two decades there was heated debate of the future of the Regent Theatre as governments planned to redevelop the area into part of a new ‘City Square’. With many proposals including a casino, boutique hotel and a car park all on the table for the space, a Save the Regent Theatre committee was formed to influence the government into protecting the building.

The Save the Regent campaign garnered over 1800 signatures and was presented to the Melbourne City Council in 1975. The Regent Theatre was finally classified as heritage listed building by the National Trust in 1979. The campaign also gathered letters of support from many notable people, including one of The Australian Ballet’s founders, Sir Robert Helpmann.

“It is terribly sad that with a beautiful theatre like the Regent that anyone should even have thought of demolishing it and I think that everything that possibly can be done should be done to save this for the future of the Australian Theatre.” — Sir Robert Help­mann, 1974
1996 Regent Opening night

Opening night, 1996
Photo Marriner Theatre Archive

1996 Third Time’s the Charm

After lying dormant for 26-years, the Regent reopened with a gala event on 17 August 1996. David Marriner was behind the grand restoration to return the Regent to its former glory. Construction began in 1993 and included the redesign of The Plaza Ballroom for its original purpose, a cabaret ballroom that now hosts some of Melbourne’s premiere galas, dinners, events and screenings.

Regent Theatre Dec 201918442 e1576629660410

Regent Theatre, 2019
Photo Beat

2019 Always Improving

The 2019 major refurbishment of the Regent Theatre auditorium included both cosmetic and practical updates to the theatre. From replica heritage patterned carpets and paintwork, the major construction included an extension to the dress circle balcony (making it four metres closer to the stage), a new seating layout and refinement of the floor rake to improve sight lines.

The Regent Theatre reopened on 11 January 2020 with the National Theatre’s production of War Horse and was the first ever play to be performed at the theatre in its then 90-year history.

SP24 Brand

Benedicte Bemet
Photo Kate Longley

2024 The Ballet is Coming!

In the 95 years since the Regent Theatre opened, it has hosted cinematic blockbuster screenings, musicals, dance, events and concerts. In 2024 we will perform on the historic stage for the first time in the world-premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's Oscar©, a full-length production commissioned exclusively for The Australian Ballet.

We can’t wait to take you beyond words in 2024 as we enter an exciting new chapter in The Australian Ballet’s history.

Fun Facts:

  • The Regent was the first duplex cinema in Australia.
  • The Plaza was the first new Australian cinema to open in the era of sound film.
  • The original theatre had 3,250 seats, came equipped with a Wurlitzer organ as well as an orchestra pit and resident orchestra to accompany silent films.
  • The Wurlitzer organ consisted of 600 miles of wire and 2,500,000 electrical contacts.

For more information on the Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation

The Transformation - Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation